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Commonwealth Awards $5 M R&D Grant for Center for Marine Robotics

December 19, 2014

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has awarded the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) a $5 million grant toward the construction of new facilities for the testing and research into innovative marine robotics such as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The five-year grant award is being made as part of the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program, managed by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech). The grant to WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics will help accelerate the deployment of new and existing marine robotics technologies in Massachusetts.

The award was announced at an event hosted by WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics and attended by industry leaders and public officials, including Secretary Gregory Bialecki of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), Congressman William Keating (D-Bourne), State Representatives David Vieira (R-Falmouth) and Tim Madden (D-Nantucket), and Pamela Goldberg, CEO of MassTech.

“Massachusetts is an unparalleled leader in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki. “New advancements in marine robotics will enable Massachusetts to sharpen our competitive edge and compete on the global scale.”

The Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program is a $50 million dollar fund formed to support large-scale, long-term research projects which have high potential to spur innovation, cluster development and job growth in the Commonwealth. The fund was created as part of the 2012 Jobs Bill and is managed by the Innovation Institute at MassTech. Proposals are reviewed by an Investment Advisory Committee composed of executives from academia, industry, and the venture capital communities.

“Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Center for Marine Robotics brings together two of the Commonwealth’s most influential economic sectors- maritime and innovation- to reinvigorate a major driver in our economy,” said Senate President Therese Murray. “The collaboration between researchers, government, business and academia will surely result in exciting advances and discoveries.”
The award is a five-year grant estimated at $5,084,754, and under the terms of the program, the state funds will be met with a 3-1 match, bringing the project’s total to over $20 million. The investment will help drive increased outside investment in Massachusetts-based R&D programs and has the potential to grow to over $50 million in total. The grant will go toward two specific efforts at the Center, including:

· Capital improvements in new testing facilities, including:
o   Rapid Prototyping Center;
o   Advanced Pressure Test Facility;
o   Indoor Robotic Test Tank Facility; and
o   In-Ocean Test Environment.

· Support for applied research, product development and novel testing activities.

“Research institutions such as WHOI and MIT have helped spur the development of leading companies in the marine robotics space and we believe that the addition of this world-class facility will help keep Massachusetts on the cutting edge of this emerging industry,” stated Pamela Goldberg, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

According to a study from Douglas-Westwood, deployed AUV systems are projected to grow by 42% over the next four years. Autonomous underwater robots have emerged from Massachusetts academic research labs and are now produced by successful Massachusetts companies, including three globally-leading companies:

· Hydroid LLC (now Hydroid Inc., a subsidiary of Kongsberg), which spun out of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2001;
· Webb Research (now Teledyne Webb Research), which spun out of WHOI in 1982; and
· Bluefin Robotics (now owned by the Battelle Memorial Institute), which spun out of MIT’s AUV lab in 1997.

WHOI’s research plan highlights research partnerships with leading academic institutions, including MIT’s Aeronautics-Astronautics Department and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and the Ocean Exploration Trust, founded by WHOI Scientist Emeritus Dr. Robert Ballard. WHOI will also work collaboratively on workforce training with institutions such as Cape Cod Community College, whose students will be trained to participate in vehicle piloting and sampling operations, utilizing infrastructure such as the Indoor Robotic Test Tank Facility.

The director of WHOI’s Center for Marine Robotics, Dr. James Bellingham, returned to Massachusetts this year after serving at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, where he was successively director of engineering and chief technologist. Dr. Bellingham earned three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was founder and manager of the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Laboratory. He was also a co-founder of Quincy, Mass.-based Bluefin Robotics, a company that develops, builds and operates autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).

“This award builds on WHOI’s pioneering work creating teleoperated and autonomous marine vehicles,” said Bellingham. “Our goals are to foster a thriving marine robotics industry and apply new robotic technologies to great science challenges of our age.  These new facilities for fabrication and testing will accelerate the creation and fielding of new robotic systems.”

MassTech previously awarded a $2 million grant to WHOI in 2008, which supported a successful proposal to the National Science Foundation that leveraged well over $100M in federal funding.


About the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Innovation Institute

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is an innovative public agency working to enhance economic growth, accelerate technology use and adoption, and harness the value of research by engaging in meaningful collaborations across academia, industry, and government.  From improving our health care systems and expanding high-speed internet across the state to fostering emerging industry clusters, MassTech is driving innovation and supporting a vibrant economy across the Commonwealth.  Learn more at

The Innovation Institute at MassTech was created in 2003 to improve conditions for growth in the innovation economy by enhancing industry competitiveness, promoting conditions which enable growth; and providing data and analysis to stakeholders in the Massachusetts innovation economy that promotes understanding and informs policy development.

About the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit